There’s been a lot of talk about quitting lately, and it’s not just Simone Biles who withdrew from Olympic competition citing mental health reasons.
In the writing community, I’ve seen writers quit querying, quit writing on a certain WIP that wasn’t working, quit Twitter, quit blogging. Quitting has negative connotations, and it’s a terrible thing to be called a quitter. But what if that thing you’re trying is hard? What if it takes too much time, or you don’t have the energy to spare after a long day? Quitting is akin to giving up and giving up implies that you’re weak. When is it okay to give up? When is it okay to say that you can’t handle the thing you’re trying to do anymore and walk away? Is it brave to know your limitations or are you a coward for not finding strength to keep going?
My friend Gareth posted an interesting think piece on his FB Author page, and I’ll quote it here (with his permission) because I think it’s something worth talking about:
The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude is constantly leveled at people who are struggling. The general concept being: you struggle because you don’t work hard enough. This suggestion is often given unironically by people in privileged positions.
I don’t doubt there was a time when the opportunities were more readily available for a few hard-working souls to make enough money, not just to live on, but to be considered a successful person. Nowadays, I’d argue those opportunities are fewer and further between. People who become successful, often require luck, good timing, or a little help. This is even true of artists and creators.
As a sometimes writer, the whole landscape has changed in the world of writing and the belief is you just have to be talented, lucky… and teach yourself the skillsets of three or four jobs that used to be done by three or four different people. It’s a lot. To become a successful writer is very difficult, especially if you’re doing it alone. At which point JK Rowling is usually brought up. lol. No, it’s not impossible, just much harder than people think.
Beyond the obvious Trumps and Kardashians there are plenty of examples in the artistic and entertainment fields of those who perhaps had their bootstraps yanked up before they got started: Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift, Paul Giammati, Emma Stone, Rashida Jones, Lady Gaga, Carly Simon, Nick Kroll, Rooney Mara & Kate Mara, Lana Del Rey, Robin Thicke, Kyra Sedgwick, Armie Hammer, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, Salma Hayek, Adam Levine, Edward Norton, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Tori Spelling, Bryce Dallas Howard, Balthazar Getty, Chevy Chase… the list is long.
There’s no doubt that talent and hard work is important, but the bootstraps mantra is a poisonous misrepresentation of the real world. I doff my cap to those writers who have found some success; to all who achieve their goals, and wish good fortune to those who are still working towards them.
I see this a lot in the writing community, and even have been a part of it myself. The unrelenting Go! Go! Go! attitude can get exhausting, and I take responsibility for my part in it. You don’t get anywhere without hard work, and that can be said with just about any profession out there, some more demanding than others, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers. But along with that hard work is the need for a little luck. You networked with the right person who featured your book in their newsletter, or you courted the right book blogger at just the right time, or you applied for a BookBub featured deal, and the guy going over the submissions was in a good mood that day and approved yours. Of course, this brings to mind the preparedness+opportunity=success equation, or as Christian Grey told Anastasia during their interview, “I’ve always found that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”
When it comes to publishing, or in Simone’s case, gymnastics, you do need to do the work. You can’t publish a book that hasn’t been written, and jokes aside that marketing is harder than finishing a book, finishing a book to some is the most daunting task. Then you hear that you shouldn’t publish until you’ve written a million words and who wouldn’t be discouraged? Gareth is correct in his author post, too. We do wear many hats–editor, graphic designer, copywriter. If we don’t excel in any of these areas, and we can’t afford to hire out to fill in the gaps of our own skillset, our books can fail. I may have spent as many hours learning what makes a good cover as I have writing because I can’t afford (don’t want to, and there is a lack of trust there, too) to hire out, and after watching tutorials and practicing I realize there’s potential for others to simply not be able to grasp those concepts. I’ve said many times before, if I didn’t write romance I’d have no choice but to hire a cover designer because my time is more valuable than learning how to do a to-market cover for any genre that requires more than what I’ve taught myself to do.
We can say that Simone Biles is a coward for dropping out of competition, but think of the hours of hard work she put into her practices just to make it there. If she had given up at any point in her career, did one hour less practice, slept in every morning she wanted to, she might not have made it as far as she did. Online, I’ve seen people use her withdrawal as an excuse to give up their own endeavors saying it’s brave to know your limits, and it is. But knowing what will break you mentally or physically is a lot different from stepping outside your comfort zone, something, it seems, few people are willing to do anymore. How can you find your best, move your career to that next level, if you’re not willing to push your boundaries? Giving ourselves permission to not do what we don’t want to do because it’s uncomfortable sets a dangerous precedence.
So how much bootstrapping do we need to do? I guess that’s up to you and your personal barriers. I’ve written through a divorce (I wrote All of Nothing during that time), I’ve written during carpal tunnel surgery (and I’ve admitted I probably didn’t give myself as much time to heal as I should have) and since December of 2020 when I contracted a disgusting, persistent, and painful case of bacterial vaginosis from dryer sheets, I’ve written three and a half books. If I had let ANY of that hinder me in any way, I wouldn’t be where I am right now–with a healthy backlist of 3rd person POV contemporary romance books, and a splendid start to a 1st person billionaire romance career.
I’ve worked my day job for twenty years, typing for the deaf and hard of hearing. When you think of your writing like a career–something you plan on doing and enjoying for the rest of your life–you make time for it. You show up whether you feel good or not, much like a regular job you count on to pay your bills. If you’re lucky, you like your day job. I like knowing I make a difference in someone’s life on a daily basis. I like my co-workers, and I like my supervisors. I’d have to, to show up 4-5 days a week for almost half my life. I also like writing, and I love every aspect of publishing–from editing my own books to doing the cover to writing the blurb. Loving what you do makes it easy to show up, and if you love what you do, the energy and the time you put into improving your business isn’t a task. I won’t say writing and publishing isn’t work even if you adore it because it is. It’s work to craft likable characters, it’s work to make sure they have a satisfying character arc. It’s work to nail your grammar and punctuation to give your reader an enjoyable experience.
Part of the problem with bootstrapping, especially in the indie writing community, is no one can tell you how long it takes to make it, how long you have to struggle (two years, five years, ten years?). In other professions, you can have a timetable at least. Night school will eventually lead to graduation, an internship will eventually lead to a paid position. No one can tell you when you’ll “make it” off your books, or what “making it” even entails these days. A living wage? Part-time earnings? $500 a month in royalties would get some authors I know into better living situations, or make it easier to put food on the table, or the vet bills for our cats easier to pay.
But I do know one thing, and it’s this: success won’t come if you quit. Simone didn’t get to where she was because she was a quitter, and the last thing she’d want is for you to use her choices as an excuse to quit. Simone isn’t a quitter, and if you want to see your book out into the world, you can’t be a quitter, either. It’s tough. I know how tough it is. Five years in the industry and all I’ve managed to do is spend money. I’ve learned a lot along the way–and knowledge is priceless–but it’s hard when I see authors who have been writing for less time than I have and are making it. They found a niche, they had their strike of luck, and they’re going gangbusters, making thousands a month on their books. I’m happy for them, but I wouldn’t be honest if I don’t say I’m waiting in line for my turn. That’s what Gareth’s post was getting at: success may never come my way, no matter how hard I work. Working hard without success is a quick way to find burnout, something I’ve been dealing with the past year–especially while I’ve been dealing with my infection.
Does it make me discouraged? Yes.
Does it make me work that much harder because I know it’s possible? Also yes.
The list of artists that Gareth shared all had one thing in common. They believed in their art and they didn’t give up. They kept producing, they kept putting themselves out there. I come from a generation where pop stars made their start at the local mall. I’ve seen videos of Britney Spears, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson all performing in mall foodcourts, Other artists sing in dive bars and in the streets, anything to get out there. We do the same with our books. We buy ads, we share snippets on Twitter and on our blogs. We do what we can to get noticed.
Bootstrapping isn’t easy, but Taylor Swift still wrote her songs, Simone Biles still practiced, and you still need to write your words. Maybe that means writing through life’s turmoils, and we all have them, some more serious than others, but no one said this was easy. There are days where I haven’t felt good enough to write, in a mental or physical capacity, but I never stopped. I took a break, but I never stopped.
It’s funny because everyone is looking for the magic bullet, not wanting to admit the only magic bullet there is consistent hard work and tenacity, and yes, a lucky break.
So what makes a quitter? I don’t know. I’ve quit some things in my life. You can say I quit my marriage rather than hanging in there. I’ve quit running in favor of writing. I’ve quit friendships that took more than they gave. In doing so, my ex-husband and I will never get back together. It would be impossible for me to run a half marathon anytime soon, and if I wanted to repair those friendships, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to. Go ahead and quit, burn those bridges if that’s what quitting entails, but be sure to measure the rewards and consequences because sometimes there is no going back.
Until next time!